Smog or Fog?

It’s insane how people still lie to themselves here about smog. “It’s not smog; it’s fog,” I hear over and over and over again. They repeat untrue truisms, such as “the south is fine” and the “countryside is clean.” Largely these trends are true, compared to Beijing. But if you set the bar too low, you’ll trip over it, and so Southern China still has loads of smog.

(For comparison, on a scale of PM2.5, the common measure. 0-50 is okay, 50-100 is please stay inside elderly folks, 100-200 is stay inside mostly everyone if you don’t need to be outside, 200-300 is don’t do exercise, 300-500 is many days in Beijing, and 500+ is holy shit where did everyone go?! The US average hovers somewhere around 17, Beijing lingers somewhere around 250, and from my experience, Zhuhai is always 50+, somewhere around 70. Springfield, MA right now, is 21, which is high for the US, and Zhuhai is 68 and today is considered a “very nice day.”)

My students were shocked by my response after being asked what smog is like in America. I said my hometown is one of the worse places in the US for smog, and on the worst possible day, in some of the worst conditions in the country, it’s still better than Zhuhai pretty much always. They said, but today is a beautiful day! Yeah, exactly, and it’s a vaguely blue sky. Now in fairness, smog was noticeable in Chicago, based on whether you could see Indiana or even Michigan on a given day from the lake; this standard is still much higher than Beijing where it’s whether or not you can see the road from your window.

I went out to the country-ish-side a bit last weekend, and went hiking in this little park. Now, in rural cities, they don’t have the saishuiche, or “water-spritzing-trucks” that spray water to keep the dust down. The ubiquitous construction in the countryside produces the dust, the cars kick up the dust and our lungs breathe in the dust. More importantly for this vignette is that our eyes can detect the damn dust, so I don’t understand how people lie to themselves. How can you literally be in a dust cloud and say “the air is much better out here.” There’s smog up above and dust clouds below.

To reiterate, yes the smog isn’t thaaaaat bad where I live. But therein lies the problem; people keep lying and a lack of awareness and/or willingness to change perpetuates the problem.


Like what you’re reading on China? Check out some other related articles in: The China Chronicles!

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